Nearly five years ago, Byron Mitchell was roaming the field at Shentel Stadium as a player for Shenandoah University’s football team. The former Hornets standout safety is returning to the turf as a member of the team’s full-time coaching staff.
The school announced on Monday that head coach Scott Yoder has hired Mitchell as Shenandoah’s new defensive backs coach. Mitchell replaces Drake Woodard, who served in that position from 2013 until he stepped down last month to take a job as a high school teacher and coach.
Mitchell, who graduated from Shenandoah in the spring of 2014 as the Hornets’ all-time leading tackler (he’s since dropped to third on that list), spent the past two years teaching special education and serving as an assistant football coach at Tallwood High School, also his alma mater. He was a four-year starter at Shenandoah and said in a phone interview on Monday that he’s wanted for some time to come back and again be a part of the Hornets’ program.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” said Mitchell, who begins his full-time duties on Aug. 1. “I’ll be honest with you, this opportunity is one that I’ve been waiting for since I graduated college. I always knew I wanted to come back and work at Shenandoah in some sort of capacity, but really I really wanted to be a part of the coaching staff and coach under coach Yoder and coach Brock (McCullough) and coach Kalvin Oliver. It means a lot to me. Like I said, it’s something that I always wanted to do, getting back to the college level after being out of it for a couple years.”
Prior to his stint at Tallwood – during which the Lions went 13-9 and made an appearance in the VHSL Group 6A playoffs in 2016 – Mitchell was the defensive backs coach at Division III Albright College in Pennsylvania and was in charge of recruiting in Maryland and Virginia.
A team captain during his senior year in 2013, Shenandoah’s first season under Scott Yoder, Mitchell recorded 94 tackles in his final season with the Hornets to bring his career total to 276.
Mitchell, a Virginia Beach native, was twice named a first-team all-conference selection during his four years at SU (All-ODAC in 2013 and All-USA South in 2011 before the Hornets changed conferences), and he was named to a pair of all-state teams and third team All-South Region by D3football.com as a senior.
“We brought in a number of excellent young coaches to talk to about this position and Byron stood out among this group,” Yoder is quoted in a news release from the school. “He was an outstanding player and leader for us during his time as an undergrad, and he has a passion for coaching football. He is going to be a great addition to our staff.”
Mitchell completes a staff that also includes McCullough, the Hornets’ associate head coach and defensive coordinator, and Oliver, both of whom coached Mitchell throughout his college career.
Mitchell said the chance to rejoin those two as colleagues was a major draw.
“Coach Oliver and coach Brock, they have helped me become the man that I am today. They have been true mentors to me on and off the field,” Mitchell said. “They’re great competitors and during my high school coaching days at Tallwood, I really molded my coaching off of what those two did and how they coach and how they deliver their coaching to the players. So those two have had a huge impact and honestly, making the decision to come here, a lot of it was based off of knowing that I’m gonna be able to coach with Brock and Oliver on the defensive side of the ball.”
Mitchell’s responsibilities as an assistant coach encompass all aspects of the program, according to the news release, including practice and game management, player development and academic monitoring.
“The way I see coaching football and playing football, it’s not just what you do on the field but it’s what you do off the field,” said Mitchell, who added that he takes an “aggressive” approach to coaching and emphasizes building relationships with his players. “I wanna be the kind of teacher where these guys know how to handle themselves in the community, in the classroom and all that comes together and helps you to become a better football player.”
Mitchell’s recruiting territories include Hampton Roads – his home turf – and Baltimore, Cecil, Harford and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland.
“Recruiting the Hampton Roads area is gonna be huge,” Mitchell said. “I think the Hampton Roads area, in my opinion, has the most talent, football-wise, on this side of the country, and I think my job is gonna be very important when it comes to recruiting that area. It’s gonna be a challenge but it’s gonna be a fun challenge because I have so many connections down there. I know the players. I know their situations. I know how to talk to them, how to connect to their families and how to reach out to all the coaches around that area. So my connections down there are really gonna help when it comes to recruiting that area.”
Shenandoah is coming off back-to-back 6-4 seasons and opens the 2018 campaign at Methodist on Sept. 1.